Saturday, December 1, 2007

Nene and the cats

We have three Labrador retrievers. Well, two labs and a mix. Nash, known as Nene, is a lab mixed with Great Dane or Mastiff or some other monstrously large animal, possibly a throwback to Tyrannosaurus Rex. He is a sweet dog, and he actually smiles because he is happy to see us. The first time he walked up to me, showing a mouthful of pointy pearly whites, I backed away slowly. However, Nash is a gentleman.

Nash loves stuffed animals, and he will grab them and run around the room. The kids will scream hysterically, but Nash will drop the toy on command.

Unfortunately, we have a neighbor who has cats, and this neighbor does not spay or neuter. The adult cats live for only a couple or three years, and new generations replace the old ones. Her cats are allowed to breed indiscriminately. They are beautiful animals, nicely marked, and very sweet, but because of inbreeding, poor health care, and most likely poor food, they are, to put it bluntly, stupid.

One gorgeous mama cat insists on having her kittens in our shed or burning barrel, right in the middle of the area where our dogs run. Our neighbor will come over, retrieve the mother and the kittens, and take them home to the garage. If she gets out, the mother will try to bring them back to us. And so it goes. Once the kittens are about six weeks old, our neighbor will allow the kittens to go outside. We try our best to keep the dogs away from the cats. Unfortunately, between the dogs, raccoons, opossums, hawks, foxes, and coyotes, the kittens rarely make it much beyond this point. Eventually, only one or two kittens will have survived. At this point, the mother cat will bring them over to the border of the dogs’ radio fence, and all will sit just out of reach, washing themselves, and I’m sure giving the dogs little kitty flip-offs when I’m not looking.

Eventually, the mom will decide it is time to trek the little ones directly across our yard to teach them to hunt baby bunnies and mice in our field. Unfortunately, this is where Nash gets involved. I can see his little doggy brain alert, most likely thinking, “Hey! A walking fuzzy toy!” Or, “Finally! Now’s my chance!” He will run up to the mother cat, who will retreat back home, leaving her kittens to their unfortunate fate--some mother. The kittens will sweetly wave their tails in the air and stare at Nash, who will then grab a kitten and race around the yard with it. He does not kill the cats outright, but the outcome is usually inevitable by the time we tell him to drop it.

We have taken our concerns to our neighbor, and she says she understands—it is an unfortunate thing that her kittens die and she knows the dogs are acting on instinct. I have strongly suggested to her that spaying and neutering are a part of responsible pet ownership. She told me, “But we like having the kittens, and the mother will miss having babies.”

Or if we are going to assign human feelings to an animal, maybe the mothers will be relieved to not have babies, only to have them die.

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